Those that suffer with respiratory conditions such as COPD and Asthma often need supplemental oxygen to aid in delivering more oxygen to the body. However some still find breathing difficult. Struggling to breathe properly may only be noticeable to some when trying to perform strenuous tasks or exercise. Two of the most common problems are over-breathing (hyperventilation) and mouth breathing, which both can have huge health impacts, particularly during exercise.
You may think that you know how to breathe properly, we all do it every day in order to stay alive however many of us breathe in such a way that it puts our health in jeopardy. If we can breathe correctly then we will be able to ensure that the most efficient amount of oxygen possible is reaching our lungs and reduces any related health problems and improves quality of life for those with respiratory conditions.
Over-Breathing is defined as ‘breathing in excess of metabolic requirements of the body at that time’ and traits include:
- Mouth breathing
- Frequent sighing
- Taking a large breath prior to talking
- Upper chest moves visibly with each breath
- Regular sniffing
- Erratic breathing
- Noticeable or audible breathing during rest
- Yawning with big breaths
- Nasal congestion
- Sleep apnea
Once the pattern of over-breathing has set in it becomes a chronic condition which will require the person to relearn how to breath correctly to break the habit. Chronic over-breathing can lead to various conditions:
- Heart palpitations and other irregular heart beat conditions
- Cold hands and feet and numbness
- Chest pain
- Dizziness and fainting
- Muscle cramps
- Panic attacks
- Bloating and acid reflux
- Weakness and exhaustion
- Poor memory and concentration
- Sleep disturbances and excess sweating
Over-breathing results in removing too much carbon-dioxide from the body. Carbon-dioxide is seen as just a waste product of breathing however the body does need a small amount as it helps to maintain your blood pH.
Over-breathing results in more air being inhaled but it actually reduces the amount of oxygen being delivered to the body and it can lead to constriction of the arteries.
Those with Asthma and Sleep apnea tend to breath in up to 3 times as much air as those who breathe normally, which happens due to breathing deeper and more frequently.
This dysfunctional breathing can be caused by:
- Processed foods which form acid
- Thinking that it’s good practise to take big deep breaths
- Lack of exercise
- Genetic predisposition
- High temperature indoors
- Excessive talking
Stress plays a huge role as many of us suffer this on a frequent basis. If you chronically over-breathe then it does not take much to push your body over the edge, even a minor stressful event can provoke symptoms such as heart problems or a panic attack. It isn’t in fact due to the stress factor but to the chronic over-breathing. A traditional solution to panic attacks was to breathe into a paper bag however a more permanent solution is to address the way you breathe. Conventional advice of deep breathing actually worsens the situation and in fact the best way to address stress is to slow down your breathing and to breathe lightly. This reduces the number of breaths per minute and also the amount of air volume being inhaled.
HOW TO BREATHE BETTER:
Ideally your breathing should be light, soft and gentle to the point where the fine hairs in the nostrils remain motionless. Also importantly you should breath through your nose and not your mouth. In fact your nose performs around 30 different functions which are all important linked to your lungs, heart and other organs. Nose breathing is also important as there is nitric oxide in your nose which is carried down to your lungs and it helps to maintain homeostasis in your body and helps to open your airways and blood vessels as well as having antibacterial properties. It also reduces the tendency to take in a bigger breath than is necessary.
The Buteyko Breathing Method:
There is a simple test you can do to measure your levels of carbon dioxide:
- Sit straight without crossing your legs and breathe comfortably and steadily.
- Take a small, silent breath in and out through your nose. After exhaling, pinch your nose to keep air from entering.
- Start counting and hold your breath until you feel the first definite desire to breathe.
- When you feel the first urge to breathe, resume breathing and note the time. The urge to breathe may come in the form of involuntary movements of your breathing muscles, or your tummy may jerk or your throat may contract. This is not a breath holding competition — what you’re measuring is how long you can comfortably and naturally hold your breath.
- Your inhalation should be calm and controlled, through your nose. If you feel like you must take a big breath, then you held your breath too long.
The time you just measured is called the ‘control pause’ or CP, and it reflects the tolerance of your body to carbon dioxide.
- CP 40 to 60 seconds: Indicates a normal, healthy breathing pattern, and excellent physical endurance
- CP 20 to 40 seconds: Indicates mild breathing impairment, moderate tolerance to physical exercise, and potential for health problems in the future (most folks fall into this category)
- CP 10 to 20 seconds: Indicates significant breathing impairment and poor tolerance to physical exercise; nasal breath training and lifestyle modifications are recommended (potential areas are poor diet, overweight, excess stress, excess alcohol, etc.)
- CP under 10 seconds: Serious breathing impairment, very poor exercise tolerance, and chronic health problems.
The shorter your CP then the more breathless you’ll get during exercise. If it is less than 20 seconds then never breathe your mouth when exercising and especially if you suffer from asthma. By increasing your CP even by 5 seconds will result in you feeling better and improve your exercise tolerance.
To improve your CP you should follow the following breath hold exercise. However if you suffer from cardiac problems, high blood pressure, panic attacks, are pregnant or have Type 1 Diabetes then ensure you do not hold your breath beyond the first urges to breathe.
Repeat the following exercise several times in succession, waiting about 30 to 60 seconds in between rounds, and do the exercise on a regular basis.
- Sit up straight.
- Take a small breath in through your nose, and a small breath out.
- Pinch your nose with your fingers and hold your breath. Keep your mouth closed.
- Gently nod your head or sway your body until you feel that you cannot hold your breath any longer. (Hold your nose until you feel a strong desire to breathe.)
- When you need to breathe in, let go of your nose, and breathe gently through it, in and out, with your mouth closed.
- Calm your breathing as soon as possible.
By retraining yourself to breathe correctly and more efficiently it can have a hugely noticeable impact upon your breathing, oxygen delivery, health, ability to exercise and overall quality of life.